On the road: Stephen Strasburg comes to Cleveland

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Strasburg pitches.JPGWhen I first realized that Stephen Strasburg was going to make his second start in beautiful downtown Cleveland, Ohio, my first thought was: I should get me some tickets. About an hour after that first thought, I got an email from Rob Campbell, future Cleveland Indians GM, inviting me to sit in the Tribe Social Deck for the game. Hmmm, free tickets or no free tickets, what should I do . . . I’m pretty sure I responded to Rob in approximately 4.2 seconds.

As Drew noted yesterday Strasburg was still throwing serious heat and, even if it wasn’t nearly as good as his debut, he didn’t exactly do anything to shake the planet’s confidence in the young man.  I personally enjoyed the hell of the game. Random observations after the jump . . .


I got to Cleveland just before noon after a mostly uneventful drive from Columbus. Sadly, Grandpa’s Cheese Barn (located in Ashland, Ohio, which is seriously billed as “The World Headquarters of Nice People”) was closed. Instead I had to stop at the Goasis travel plaza. The place is absolutely redonkulous. It has a Pizza Hut Express, a Popeyes, a Taco Bell, a Starbucks and a convenience store that is larger than pre-1980s grocery stores. The Goasis is everything that is both so very, very wrong and so very, very right about America. I got a bean burrito and a bottle of water (the bean burrito was the wrong part, but I had one or two cocktails too many on Saturday night, so it was very, very necessary.

Last month when I came to Cleveland for a game the garage I like to park in on Huron Street was charging $10. Yesterday it was $15. The Strasburg Effect is apparently limitless.

Lots of Stephen Strasburg shirts on the plaza between Quicken Arena and the ballpark. I’m sure they weren’t all worn by people who drove up from Washington, so you figure there’s a lot of people caught up in the hysteria. My first thought when I saw them all was whether people would have been snapping up David Clyde shirts back in 1973. Yeah, you and I know Strasburg is a different brand of pitcher than Clyde was, but I kinda doubt a lot of the people in the shirts would have been able to explain the difference. On some level hype trumps everything.

You pick up Social Deck tickets at the Gate B will call. Which is the only will call window at the ballpark.  When I got there, I was greeted by quite a line:
will call line.JPGAnd it stretched way back from what you could see in the pic. Not the smoothest operation, most likely because the Indians forgot what it was like to have a near full house at the joint.  Confession: the “S-T” line was much shorter than the “A-J” line, so I hopped in it, figuring I’d play dumb and say “Social Deck” when I got to the window, even though I knew full well that they had the tickets reserved by last name. The guy at the window just looked at me like I was a piece of garbage and he was right to do so. Still, he got me my tickets because this is the Midwest and we tend to do the weary, put-upon, silently-think-less-of-you thing better than we do open hostility.

Oh, one other will call thing: I overheard the guys behind me in line — a couple of early twenty somethings who could have been athletes — and based on their conversation it was obvious that Strasburg had left them tickets. “They’d better be under his name and not ours, dude, because I’m not waiting in that other line.”

Walking around the concourse for a bit I talked to a middle aged couple wearing Nats jerseys. I asked them if they came here from D.C. They said they were from Strongsville (a Cleveland suburb), and that they were the only Nats fans they knew in Ohio. I asked them how they became Nats fans and the guy said that he worked in Montreal for a while about 15 years ago and got hooked on the Expos, so he just followed them over. I had no idea that any old Expos fans made the jump like that.

Paul Cousineau of The DiaTribe and Beyond the Box Score showed up to the Deck with his brother. He had his own will call story: as he was waiting in line he saw the new Cleveland Browns’ QB Colt McCoy being let in the media gate. Paul: “If he’s six feet tall then so am I.” note: Paul is not six feet tall. Good luck Browns fans!  By the way, Paul is just about the best Indians blogger out there, so definitely check him out.

David Huff got the start for the Tribe. His warmup music is “God’s gonna cut you down” by Johnny Cash. I can’t think of a pitcher who deserves that song less than David Huff, but I’m glad to see that his weekly shellackings aren’t affecting his confidence.

When I saw Aroldis Chapman a couple of weeks ago it took him an inning or two to loosen things up and get to the high 90s. Strasburg was there right out of the gate, hitting 99 on his first pitch and then 100 within just a couple. There was an audible “oooh” in Progressive Field when he started bringing that stuff. His windup and motion seems way too easy to be throwing that hard. I’m pretty sure if he took his shirt off it would reveal that he’s powered by an arc generator.

Social Deck.JPGCool thing about the Social Deck: there’s a little flat screen TV right there. Even better: the HD broadcast is on, like, a five second delay, so it was like having instant replay for every pitch. This was absolutely indispensable in figuring out how Strasburg was doing. Even more indispensable for the play in which Adam Dunn barreled Carlos Santana over. Everyone in the crowd was watching the ball go down the right field line and missed the collision the first time. Having the replay of it while in the park rocked.

Travis Hafner hit a homer off Strasburg in the second inning. The ball was down and in and he just golfed it. When he did it, Cousineau and I assumed he guessed at it. After the game Hafner admitted that with this kid you just have to assume the fastball and hope for the best.

A drunk guy in the bleachers behind us was taunting Josh Willingham, who got the start in left field for the Nats. “Hey 1-6!! You suck!!”  Who the hell taunts Josh Willingham? I hate people sometimes.

For all of Strasburg’s great pitches, one was notable by its near absence: the changeup. He threw his heat and he threw tons of mow-to-mid 80s curves, but there were hardly any of those low-90s changeups he featured in his debut. Maybe a few of what I’m calling curves were changeups, but if they were they were much different than before. Did someone tell him to slow it down, or did he just not have the feel for it yesterday?

Browns’ receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs was at the ballpark. When they put him on the jumbotron he got the loudest cheer of the game. It’s been forgotten since the Bernie Kosar days, but Cleveland will always be a Browns town before anything else.

It was widely reported after the game, but Strasburg’s issues with the mound were fairly entertaining. After the fact it became clear that he had a legitimate beef with the condition of the mound, but in the park at the time it wasn’t clear (neither Huff nor any of the relievers, righties or lefties, had any apparent issues).  The boos he got were because everyone thought he was being a prima donna. I think he might have been frustrated that he wasn’t getting borderline calls on the corner either, but no matter how big a wheel he is he’s still a rookie, so he had best get used to that.

I figured that the place would empty out once Strasburg was pulled, but they hung around to watch Drew Storen, who was pretty impressive in his own right, get out of the bases loaded jam in the sixth.  A lot of folks streamed out of there once the sixth ended. In all, there was 32,800 at the game, which is about double what the team could usually expect for a Sunday tilt with the Nats.  The loss sucked for the Tribe, but the money is a nice consolation prize.

All in all a nice day at the Jake. Baseball cold beers, hot sun and the Second Coming of Christ on the mound.  Beats running through the sprinkler, doesn’t it?

Someone stole Jose Fernandez’s high school jersey after a vigil

MIAMI, FL - JULY 09:  Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park on July 9, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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People are the absolute worst sometimes. The latest example: someone stole one of Jose Fernandez’s high school jerseys, which had been displayed in his old high school’s dugout for a vigil last night.

That report comes from Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times who covered the vigil at Alonso High School in Tampa yesterday. Her story of the vigil is here. Today she has been tweeting about the theft of the jersey. She spoke to Alonso High school’s principal who, in a bit of understatement, called the theft the “lowest of the low.”

The high school had one more Fernandez jersey remaining and has put it on display in the school. In the meantime, spread this story far and wide so that whatever vulture who stole it can’t sell it.

 

What Hall of Fame-eligible pitcher would you ask to pitch today?

Mike Mussina
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In an earlier post I made a joke about the Indians starting Dennis Martinez if forced to play a meaningless (for them) game on Monday against the Tigers. On Twitter, one of my followers, Ray Fink, asked a great question: If you had to hand the ball to a Hall of Fame-eligible pitcher to give you three innings, who would it be?

The Hall of Fame-eligible part gets rid of the recently-retired ringers, requiring a guy who has been off the scene for at least five years, ensuring that there’s a good bit of rust. I love questions like these.

My immediate answer was Mike Mussina. My thinking being that of all of the great pitchers fitting these parameters, he’s the most likely to have stayed in good shape. I mean, Greg Maddux probably still has the best pitching IQ on the planet, but he’s let himself go a bit, right? Mussina strikes me as a guy who still wakes up and does crunches and stuff.

If you extend it to December, however, you may get a better answer, because that’s when Tim Wakefield becomes eligible for the Hall. I realize a knuckleball requires practice to maintain the right touch and subtlety to the delivery, but it also requires the least raw physical effort. Jim Bouton went well more than five years without throwing his less-than-Wakefield-quality knuckler and was still able to make a comeback. I think Tim could be passable.

Then there’s Roger Clemens. I didn’t see his numbers for that National Baseball Congress tourney this summer and I realize he’s getting a bit thick around the middle, but I’m sure he can still bring it enough to not embarrass himself. Beyond the frosted tips, anyway.

So: who is your Space Cowboys-style reclamation project? Who is the old legend you dust off for one last job?